3 Holiday Spices with Health Benefits

High angle view of Christmas presentsThe fall and winter holidays are filled with traditional foods and dishes from cultures around the world and some of the most commonly used seasonings aren’t even native to North America. During the holiday season, it is common to see three major spices being used in a wide variety of recipes: allspice, cloves, and vanilla.

Did you know that beyond their delicious flavor profiles and aromas, these holiday spices are packed with health benefits? Be sure to use herbs and spices to support your health goals this season. Here’s how to use them in the kitchen and for your health:

Allspice in a bamboo bowl

  1. Allspice

Allspice, a dried, unripe berry from an evergreen tropical shrub, is typically used in the kitchen to add fragrance and flavor to dishes. Native to the West Indies and Central America, this spice can be found in a wide variety of recipes from sweet to savory. During the holidays, try using allspice in your favorite gingerbread cookie recipe, added to the filling of your next apple pie, or mixed into a pumpkin spice blend. Although this spice is a holiday staple, it can be used all year round. Medicinally, allspice may possess anti-inflammatory and anti-nausea benefits, and it may boost immunity through its antioxidant properties. Allspice can be found in a liquid extract form for supplementation and is also commonly used as an essential oil as well. Spice is generally safe to use ground in food as a spice, but may cause severe allergic reactions in people who are hypersensitive. Check with your medical team to see if this spice is right for you if you’re using it for anything other than cooking.

Close up of cloves in cup on wooden table

  1. Cloves

Cloves are actually flower buds from an evergreen tree, the clove tree, native to Indonesia. Packed with the mineral manganese, cloves can support brain functioning and help support strong bones. Cloves are also a great source of antioxidants, which aid the body in fighting off chronic disease and can help soothe inflammation as well. Cloves are used directly on the gums as a pain reliever in traditional medicine. This spice can be found in capsule form to be taken as a supplement but before you do that, check with your medical team to see if this is appropriate for you. Traditionally, around the holidays and beyond, cloves can be found in a variety of recipes from savory main dishes to warming beverages and desserts. Try adding cloves, paired with cinnamon, to coffee to give it a welcoming holiday boost or add this spice to a roasted squash recipe.

Aromatic vanilla extract and beans on wooden table

  1. Vanilla

Vanilla comes from the bean of the vanilla plant, native to South and Central America, the Caribbean, and Africa. A liquid extract is how this popular flavoring agent is usually found and incorporated into cooking. It is widely used as an additive for aromatic flavoring, but also holds medicinal properties. Vanilla contains vanillin, a phenolic plant compound that has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Add vanilla to your morning coffee or tea to reap the benefits that it may offer. During the holidays, you are likely to see vanilla in a variety of desserts and beverages both on its own and because it can help to enhance other flavors in a recipe. Add vanilla to your cookies, cake, and pie recipes this holiday season.

It is important to take care of your health all year, but especially during potentially stressful times with lots of events and celebrations. Try adding these delicious holiday spices to your favorite holiday recipes to possibly boost your immune system and mood as well as impress your guests with traditional seasonal flavors.

Which of these three holiday spices is your favorite?

Bythrow JD. Vanilla as a Medicinal Plant. 2005;3:129–31.
Nurdjannah N, Bermawie N. 11 – Cloves. Peter KV, editor. Woodhead Publishing; 2012. 19 p.
Zhang Lei,L. Lokeshwar Bal, “Medicinal Properties of the Jamaican Pepper Plant Pimenta dioica and Allspice”, Current Drug Targets 2012; 13(14) .


About Ginger Hultin, MS RDN CSO

Ginger Hultin, MS, RD, CSO, LDN, is a health writer and owner of Champagne Nutrition specializing in integrative health and whole food-based nutrition. She serves as Immediate Past President for the Chicago Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Chair-Elect of the Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group and is a Media Representative for the Illinois Academy. Read Ginger's blog, Champagne Nutrition, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. Ginger Hultin MS RD CSO LDN gingerhultin@hotmail.com | @GingerHultinRD Chair-Elect, Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group ChampagneNutrition.com  
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